How to Use a Curling Iron

How To Use A Curling Iron Featured

Learning how to use a curling iron might seem daunting at first. After all, there’s a fine line between bouncy, shiny curls and fried, overheated hair. But, curling irons are surprisingly easy to use to get the perfect style for you. All it takes is a little practice and a better understanding of how this essential styling tool actually works.

Understanding Curling Iron Wand Types

Before you start using a curling iron, you have to pick the right one(s). They’re not all the same. If you’ve already went shopping for one, you’ve noticed different sizes, materials, and shapes. Each serve different purposes. So, let’s take a look at your options.

Barrel Size

The first thing to look at is the type of curls you want to achieve. Typically, you’ll see sizes from 3/4 inch to 1 1/2 inches. Of course, you’ll sometimes see slightly smaller or larger barrels too.

If your goal is tighter curls, stick with a 3/4 inch barrel. For general styling and average sized curls, a 1-inch barrel is ideal. It’s also the most popular size. Of course, for larger, softer curls, opt for a larger barrel size.

Another alternative is a curling wand that’s more of a cone shape. This gives you larger curls that taper to a tighter curl at the end or vice versa. These can be trickier to use at first, but well worth it once you see the results.

Clamp vs. Clampless

After the barrel size, you’ll also find curling irons with clamps and some without. Traditional curling irons use a clamp to help hold your hair’s ends in place. This gives you more stability when trying to create different types of curls. You’ll also end up with more uniform curls. However, the clamp does press your hair tighter against the wand, which can cause more heat damage if you’re not careful.

With clampless curling irons, you simply wrap your hair around the barrel. Without the clamp to hold things in place, your hair can shift more easily. But, this type of curling iron can give you some of the most amazing tousled beach waves. If you want a more natural look, this might work best. Plus, your ends are pressed against the barrel as tightly, leading to less heat damage on your ends.

Barrel Material

One of the biggest fears when learning to use a curling iron is heat damage. Thanks to a variety of materials, curling irons are far more sophisticated than they used to be. For instance, some materials help reduce frizz, while others are designed to tame thick hair better. You’ll most often find the following materials:

  • Ceramic – This is the most popular because it leaves hair shinier and distributes heat more evenly. It’s ideal for thinner hair as the infrared heat generated helps lock in moisture without causing as much damage. Use these tips to better care for fine hair. Opt for ceramic plates over ceramic coating for best results.
  • Titanium – A popular alternative to ceramic is titanium. This material heats faster and tends to hold the heat better. Of course, the higher heat can also mean a bigger chance of damage. Save this material until you’ve mastered using a curling iron.
  • Gold-plated – This was the most common material before ceramic hit the market. It’s not made for even heat distribution, but does hold higher heat temperatures for long periods like titanium. For thick or coarse hair, this can work better than ceramic.
  • Tourmaline – A slightly newer option is tourmaline. This material uses negative ions to tame frizzy hair. It’s ideal for thicker hair and usually leaves your hair shiny and smooth.

Multiple Barrel

A final option is a multi-barrel curling iron. These feature two or three barrels and create looser curls and waves, such as mermaid and beach waves. Due to the way they’re made, you can end up with random bumps in your hair. As you get used to how to wrap your hair, you’ll be able to eliminate the bumps.

Curling Iron Basics

Now that you’ve got the perfect curling iron picked out, it’s time to learn how to use it. For this tutorial, we’ll focus on a single barrel curling iron as this is the most popular type.

You may find it easier to separate your hair into 2-3 sections or layers. For instance, clip the upper layer of your hair out of the way to curl the bottom section of your hair first, much like you’d do when pulling your hair back in a barrette. Some people skip this step, so this depends your own personal preference.

How To Use A Curling Iron Basics Section
  1. Let the curling iron heat fully before starting. While some only have one heat setting, others have adjustable settings. Always start with a lower setting to get the hang of using the curling iron first.
  2. While holding the curling iron vertically next to your face, place the end of a 1-2 inch section of hair under the clamp and clamp the iron shut. To avoid damaging split ends, you may want to leave around an inch of your ends out of the clamp.

For even tighter curls, wrap your hair completely to the root and then clamp the iron shut.

If you’re using a clampless curling iron, the process works the same, but you may find holding the curling iron horizontally until you’ve wrapped your hair once around the ends to secure them.

  1. Curl your hair around the wand away from your face. Continue to wrap the hair until you’re near the root. Don’t let the wand touch your scalp. If you don’t want full length curls, stop wrapping at the appropriate length.

If you want more variety, switch up the direction that you curl your hair. Do some sections away from your face and others in the direction of your face (some clockwise and others counter-clockwise).

  1. Hold the curling iron in place for up to 10 seconds. Please read the manual with your curling iron for the recommended length of time. For thinner hair, hold for less time. For thicker hair, hold for longer. The less time you hold in place, the looser the curl. The longer you hold it, the tighter the curl.
  2. Unwrap the hair and release the clamp. Repeat the process. Avoid wrapping large sections at a time. Otherwise, your curls won’t hold and you’ll also have to leave the hair wrapped longer, leading to heat damage.
  3. Spray curls in place once you’re finished. You can also use a heat styling product before curling to set your curls.

Common Curling Iron Mistakes

How To Use A Curling Iron Mistakes

As straightforward as it seems to use a curling iron, it’s also easy to make simple mistakes that can hurt your style and even your hair. The great news is these are easy to avoid.

  • Curling wet hair – Curling wet hair is the equivalent of putting your hair in a hot frying pan. The water creates steam that can severely damage your hair and scalp. Only use a curling iron on dry hair. If you’re using a styling product, let it dry completely before proceeding.
  • Skipping a heat protectant – We all know that heat is bad for hair. To keep your hair safer, use a heat protectant spray or cream. Thanks to less heat damage, your hair is softer, shinier, and more manageable.
  • Curling large sections – Larger sections might seem like less time spent curling, but it’s incredibly difficult to get large sections of hair to set. This means repeating the process multiple times on the same section of hair. Curling smaller sections means you’ll get the right look faster.
  • Using high heat – Yes, a higher heat will set your curls faster, but the trade-off is damaged hair. Using a low to moderate heat setting is all most people need. Only use the highest setting for thicker hair and only hold for about five seconds to see how your hair reacts.
  • Curling every day – Heat styling isn’t the healthiest thing for your hair. Exposing your hair to the high heat of a curling iron every single day could lead to dry, frizzy hair. This is just as important as not washing your hair every day.
  • Curling damaged hair – If you have brittle, dry, and damaged hair, skip the curling iron. In fact, skip all heat styling. Instead, focus on healing your hair. This may mean switching your shampoo and conditioner, taking vitamins, eating healthier, reducing stress, and even seeing your doctor to see if there’s an underlying issue.

Keeping Your Curls Set

How To Use A Curling Iron Set

The final step is to spray your curls. Wait for your hair to cool before spraying. This helps your curls set better. Also, if you want looser, bouncier curls, brush them gently after your hair is cooled. Then, spray them with hairspray. If your hair tends to tangle easily, try these hair detanglers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I ever start wrapping my hair from the root to the ends?

You can definitely do this. Starting at the root can help give you more volume. However, if you’re just starting with a curling iron, it’s easier to start from the ends.

How do I know how long to hold the curling iron in place?

First, check your curling iron’s user manual. The optimal time can vary based on the material on the curling iron. Then, start with 5-6 seconds on a few sections and check the results. If the curls look like you want, then you’re good. If they’re falling apart quickly, hold for a few more seconds.

If you need a quick hairstyle without waiting for each section of your hair to curl, try these five-minute hairstyles.

Should I have multiple curling irons?

If you’re going for drastically different looks, having multiple types of curling irons can work well. If you want to use just one, look for one that has interchangeable barrels to give you different sizes/types of curls from one curling iron. Some sets even include clamp, clampless, cone, and bead barrels, such as this 6 in 1 Curling Wand Set from Laluztop.

Image credit: Pixabay

Crystal Crowder

Crystal's spent over 15 years as a tech geek who writes about everything from gadgets to lifestyle and everything in between. She not only wants to live her best life, but help others do the same.